The Supper — headpiece for the penultimate scene in Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy, Volume Two, first published in 1768. Artists: Bastin and G. Nichols, from original designs by Jacque and Fussell. Wood-engraving, 4.6 cm high by 8.3 cm wide, top half of p. 164. In the illustration, Mr. Yorick is standing at the door, waiting to be admitted to the evening meal in the little farm-house near Mount Taurina, whose ascent has cost his horse a shoe which he now hopes the owner of the farm will help La Fleur replace. Soup steams from a large tureen as the grandfather gestures towards a vacant seat. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated: An Extended Family Peasant Supper

It was a little farm-house, surrounded with about twenty acres of vineyard, about as much corn; — and close to the house, on one side, was a potagerie of an acre and a half, full of everything which could make plenty in a French peasant’s house; — and, on the other side, was a little wood, which furnished wherewithal to dress it. It was about eight in the evening when I got to the house — so I left the postilion to manage his point as he could; — and, for mine, I walked directly into the house.

The family consisted of an old grey-headed man and his wife, with five or six sons and sons-in-law, and their several wives, and a joyous genealogy out of them.

They were all sitting down together to their lentil-soup; a large wheaten loaf was in the middle of the table; and a flagon of wine at each end of it promised joy through the stages of the repast: — ’twas a feast of love.

The old man rose up to meet me, and with a respectful cordiality would have me sit down at the table; my heart was set down the moment I enter’d the room; so I sat down at once like a son of the family; and to invest myself in the character as speedily as I could, I instantly borrowed the old man’s knife, and taking up the loaf, cut myself a hearty luncheon; and, as I did it, I saw a testimony in every eye, not only of an honest welcome, but of a welcome mix’d with thanks that I had not seem’d to doubt it. ["The Supper," pp. 164-65]


These final scenes at the peasant farmhouse in the Bourbonnois district remind us that the Age of Sentiment, which A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy, like Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard (1750) and Goldsmith's Deserted Village (1770), exemplifies, anticipated in many ways the Romantic Revolution. Here, Sterne anticipates one of the salient characteristics of the literature of the Romantic Era, a deep sympathy with obscure, humble, or underprivileged people (such as the dwarfs and beggars whom Yorick encounters in Paris) and with those who live close to nature. This aspect of the work of the so-called "Pre-Romantics" was part of a larger democratic ideallism and insistence on the rights of the individual, no matter what his or her class. Although Sterne does not betray an interest in the language of the peasantry, he effectively communicates their nobility of character, their emphasis on whole-hearted enjoyment of rustic pursuits and pastimes, and their family values, as exemplified by the dinner here and the dance that follows. Sterne presents the extended peasant family as a kind of ante-diluvian ideal, in sharp contrast to the false sentiments of those who consume luxurious dishes and beverages in the fashionable Paris salons that Yorick has suddenly quitted.

Relevant illustration from the 1857 edition

Tony Johannot's much more generalised depiction of the family dinner emphasizes the natural setting (uncaptioned, but appearing above the chapter title "The Supper").


Sterne, Laurence. A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. Illustrated with one hundred engravings on wood, by Bastin and G. Nichols, from original designs by Jacque and Fussell. London: Joseph Thomas, 1841.

Sterne, Laurence. A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. With 100 illustrations by Tony Johannot. London: Willoughby, 1857.

Last modified 18 September 2018